Back when I first took up “serious” biking, I tried to read a lot of material about the sport, so I could bring myself up to speed quickly. One of my monthly reads was Bicycling Magazine.
Actually, it still is. I read it every month. The trouble is, I can read what I consider the important stuff in less than an hour’s time. Even the featured articles are so short, they often don’t cover more than two pages. And much of those pages are taken up by ads or pictures.
And the teases on the cover — they drive me crazy. Talk about promising more than you deliver! A cover headline that reads, “Stay With the Pack,” will often have no relation to the article title it’s promoting. After skimming the magazine fruitlessly, a search of the table of contents points you to something like, “21 Tips for Getting Faster.” Then, when you finally find the article, those 21 tips are a list, with short descriptions. Usually, some of the tips (many of them?) are so elementary, they even offend the Bike Noob: “Learn to draft.” Ah ha! That means next month, there will be another article on how to draft, and since there are no new breakthrough techniques on drafting to report, the one-page article will rehash stuff you probably know already.
Rodale, the publishing house that owns Bicycling, is feeling the same economic pressures as all media are feeling these days — falling ad revenue. So they laid off 10 percent of their workforce last week, or 111 people. I don’t expect the look of the magazine to change much, since a lot of it seems to be done by formula anyway, as these three covers suggest:
“OK Herb, just plug in the ‘Get Lean Now’ headline on the cover again this month. We’ll hold off on the ‘Great Abs’ headline with the picture of the good lookin’ girl in the unzipped jersey until next month.”
“Wait a second, Herb. When you do the abs cover, let’s not be sexist about it.”
There are alternatives. In my opinion, the British magazine Cycling Plus delivers a lot more solid information each month than Bicycling. The ride reports are well written, with terrific maps and good pictures. Of course, all the rides are in the British Isles, and it’s not likely I’ll get over there anytime soon. And its big drawback is the $10 news stand price here in the U.S.
Ah, what the heck. I know darn well what the weaknesses of Bicycling are. But I still find myself looking forward to picking it up every month. I’m part of that “old media” generation that likes to hold pages in its hands when reading, instead of squinting at a flickering computer monitor. I suppose the evolving media landscape will solve my dilemma for me — when Bicycling and just about every other print publication adopts online as its only delivery platform.